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Ducru-Beaucaillou: 1982, ’94, ’95 & 2003

March 10, 2011

The following notes come from a recent spate of wine-and-dine events that happened within the same week, mostly from a dinner at Imperial Treasure, Great World City, on 6 March 2011 with the general manager of the chateau, Stephen Lemaitre, in attendance. None of the wines were decanted, being aired instead in bottle for 2-3 hours prior to tasting.

Before all that, however, we had an overture in the form of the 2000 La Croix de Beaucaillou, the chateau’s second wine but, in reality, actually originating from a different plot of vines, much like Clos du Marquis in relation to Ch Leoville Las-Cases. Transluscent purple with a more evolved rim, from which exuded a powerful, fantastic glow of dried leaves, herbs and leather so unmistakably St Julien and so rich in complexity that one could actually detect the layering within the glorious bouquet. This is followed through on the palate, where one revels in the ripeness of the superb fruit that possessed excellent depth and intensity, laced with a tinge of sweetness. A wine that’s yet to peak, but this is so lovely. Most remarkable for a second wine. Not exactly cheap at SGD97, but with such exceptional performance from a wine already aged 10 years  from a superlative vintage, everyone agreed it’s a real bargain. I’m seriously considering a case.

The 2003 Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou, deep red that lightened slightly towards the rim, produced a deep luxuriant nose of dark fruits and blackberries with a trace of vanilla that betrayed its youth, but there was none of those raisiny notes to indicate any heat stress from a hot vintage. Medium-full on the palate with a solid core of ripe fruit, rounded and accessible at just the right level of extraction. Rather elegant. Yet to develop secondary nuances, of course, and somewhat short at the finish but it is drinking well. Excellent.

The 1995 Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou, similar in color, was probably the most quintessential of the entire lineup, the classic St Julien terroir – not unlike adjacent Pauillac but layered with fine minerality and a touch of austerity towards the finish – leaping out from the glass irrepressibly, but its balance was lovely, achieving great depth, definition and structure on the palate, yet maintaining an elegant, almost feminine, poise. A wine caught at its peak, and will hold for many years to come. One of the best 1995s I’ve had.

A comparison with the 1994 Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou proved to be highly instructive, the only wine in the lineup that was drunk a few days earlier at Hinoki. Unlike a previous bottle tasted some 5 years ago at restaurant Saint-Julien where the wine seemed to be drying out, the present bottle was quite open on the nose with vibrant notes of violets, cassis and dark berries, the minerality coming through very well too. On the palate, the wine proved contrarian to popular views about 1994, the ripe cabernet fruit absolutely alive, the tannins having melted away, the wine gelling together into a harmonious whole with excellent weight and intensity, just lacking in the opulence and charm of truly good vintages as it tapered towards a moderate finish, a great testimony to the chateau’s skill in so-called difficult vintages. In fact, its shortcomings would have been missed if it had been drunk alone without any yardstick for comparison.

And finally, the 1982 Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou, of which we helped ourselves to a couple of generous pours. This had all the hallmarks of the great ’82s – complex and sophisticated, yet still relatively youthful and nowhere near its peak. The color was one of deep vermillion glow. Restrained on the nose initially, but a powerful bouquet of cinnamon, cassis and mature ripe fruit soon leapt out of the glass, imparting the classic St Julien terroir of pencil shavings, dried leaves and cigar box on the palate, just a shade austere. Incredibly complex, rich and deep, yet supple and almost effortless in the way it combines the structure, fruit, acidity and alcohol. To be honest, if I’d been blinded, I wouldn’t have realised this was a 1982, for the wine was still remarkably fresh and lively. Just as I’d felt back in Aug 2009 (see post) when I last had a ’82 Ducru Beaucaillou, this has the legs to last another two decades, easily.

I came away with a newfound appreciation of Ducru-Beaucaillou. Its wines consistently lay full the expression of St Julien, are more generously flavoured than Leoville Las-Cases, packed with power and effortless grace, and, best of all, remain sensibly priced.

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